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How to choose the right appetizer for your dinner party

Appetizers do more than keep guests happy until the main course. These starters actually set the tone and mood by providing a first impression of the overall event. For your next dinner party, choose appetizers that please the palate and offer guests a sneak peek of what’s to come.

Variety of appetizers

Your next dinner party should start with a solid plan, says Courtney Kern, founder of Events Beyond. Here, Kern and other entertaining experts chime in to help you select appetizers that fit the event you are hosting.

1Know your guests

If you know your guests’ tastes, styles, likes and dislikes, you can customize your menu, but consider serving new and different appetizers as well. “I personally always recommend tossing in a few appetizers that might be a surprise for your guests,” says Kern.

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2When and where will your event take place?

Are you hosting a midday brunch, an afternoon tea or a formal evening dinner party? The day and time of your event “will help you to select cold versus hot foods, family- or buffet-style and so on,” Kern says.

  • For a quick daytime or afternoon gathering, offer bite-size tea sandwiches, quiches, vegetables, spreads, small cookies and petite bundt cakes.
  • For an evening event, prepare some hot and some cold appetizers, says Kern. Wine and cheese are wonderful for evening affairs, as are crudite stations. Add spiced mixed nuts, olives and other small finger foods.

Expert tip

For inspiration on your next appetizer, visit your local specialty market, cheese shop or wine store.
— Courtney Kern

3Make it simple for yourself

“If you’re planning to have many dishes, be sure the appetizer is something that’s ready to go when guests arrive — ideally something that can be made in advance,” says Jackie Newgent, culinary nutritionist and author of Big Green Cookbook.

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4Don’t get globally carried away

“Keep the appetizers of a similar taste profile to the rest of the festive dishes,” Newgent says. “If you’re planning a Mediterranean feast for your party, you won’t want to serve a Thai appetizer.”

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5Keep appetizers savory or sweet

Avoid extra-spicy appetizers. “Be sure your appetizers tempt the palate for the remaining dishes rather than overwhelm the palate,” says Newgent.

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6Always have a veggie appetizer

“A veggie appetizer option will please those who want to enjoy something healthful first, knowing that rich dishes or desserts are likely to come,” says Newgent. Bonus: it will please vegetarians, too.

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7Go for balance…

“If your entrees or larger plate items are going to be meaty,” says Newgent, “then go for mainly vegetables or seafood appetizers, and vice versa.”

8… but experiment with variety

Event planner Karen Zachary loves a variety of flavors, colors, textures and shapes and offers these appetizer tips. You want:

  • At least one soft food and one crunchy food
  • No more than one food on a skewer
  • Several non-bread foods
  • Hors d’oeuvres or garnishes with color, such as prawns, mustard dip and pesto
  • Lots of shapes: round sliders, square mini-pizzas, long cheddar breadsticks and triangular spanakopita

More on finger foods and appetizers

Sweet appetizer ideas to start the party right
Bite-size comfort foods
Not your typical finger foods

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